Young: He wears a hoodie that says: `Just A Kid From Nor­man'

Tulsa World - - Sports - You can go. I'm good. started chant­ing, not so sub­tly. F--- you, Trae Young … F--you, Trae Young. him­self. He

Eigh­teen years later, Trae Young was al­ready a lo­cal celebrity with so much more ahead of him. He turned to his mother with a re­minder.

Later, when Young moved into Head­ing­ton Hall on the south­east edge of the OU cam­pus, Ray­ford says Candice was emo­tional, but he was mostly proud to see his son be­com­ing a man.

The move was strange be­cause Young was only 11 min­utes south of his child­hood home in Nor­man. He would still take naps on his par­ents' couch. Candice would still do his laun­dry. Ray­ford would still DVR bas­ket­ball games so the two could an­a­lyze them to­gether.

“Some­times I sit back and imag­ine,” Ray­ford said, “what if he would have went half­way across the coun­try?”

On Aug. 3, the Tulsa World ran a story with this head­line: “Yet to play a col­lege game, Trae Young's life is al­ready chang­ing.”

In that story, Young talked about go­ing to Camp Crim­son, an ori­en­ta­tion event for OU fresh­men, and try­ing to be like any other stu­dent.

“A lot of peo­ple (rec­og­nized me),” Young said. “It kinda sucked, but I had to tell peo­ple I couldn't take pic­tures, I had to stop tak­ing pic­tures. “

On Aug. 20, when classes were start­ing, Young posted on his In­sta­gram, which then had about 172,000 fol­low­ers (now he's at 634,000). There he was in a black hoodie that read: Just a Kid From Nor­man. Be­low this pic­ture was this cap­tion: New Chap­ter, Start­ing Over.

On Young's first day of class, cam­pus was packed like a gym on New Year's. Young knew the OU grounds but was still try­ing to make sure he found the right build­ings, other fresh­men star­ing at maps and phones and bump­ing into each other on the way.

Young strolled to class and kept get­ting stopped. Some­one asked him to sign his back­pack.

As the se­mes­ter went on, Young would walk to class with a black hat and black hood, forced to shut him­self off from the in­ter­ac­tions he usu­ally en­joys. He just wanted to make it to class on time. Be­ing Trae Young means be­ing dif­fer­ent, and his own tal­ent sep­a­rates him from nor­malcy.

A few months af­ter all that, Young en­tered United Su­per­mar­kets Arena in Lub­bock as the star point guard for a strug­gling team. His fresh­man sea­son was in the midst of be­com­ing both moral­ity tale and case study. The only thing he did to cause it was lead the na­tion in points and as­sists.

Dur­ing the sec­ond half, with his team trail­ing, the stu­dent sec­tion of his fa­ther's alma mater

This week, the 19-year-old who has been por­trayed as both sen­sa­tion and burnout, bas­ket­ball demigod and ESPN vil­lain, will play in the NCAA Tour­na­ment. Once No. 4 in the coun­try, Ok­la­homa barely squeezed into the 68-team field as a No. 10 seed, and many were mad the Soon­ers made it at all.

Young will try to lead his team to a late-sea­son mir­a­cle, maybe re­vi­tal­ize his NBA draft stock, maybe an­swer the ques­tions his doubters have cast from all an­gles.

But Young's celebrity came grad­u­ally, then sud­denly, and re­ally for a long time now, Young has been fac­ing the same weighty ques­tions.

Eat chicken strips or hone in on a healthy diet? Stay an­other year at OU or jet to the NBA? Stay a kid, em­brace be­ing 19 … or be­come a grown man, where bas­ket­ball be­comes a pro­fes­sion and life only gets harder?

In Trae Young's life, there is rarely room for a mid­dle ground. against Kansas.

That's of­ten how fame works, peo­ple there to jump on board, de­spite not know­ing or car­ing to know the process it took to get there.

Young al­ways has been con­fi­dent in his abil­i­ties. That comes nat­u­rally when you dom­i­nate bas­ket­ball games for most of your life. Be­fore this sea­son, be­fore he was con­sid­ered a top-level NBA prospect, Young talked about the pos­si­bil­ity of play­ing against Ok­la­homa City Thun­der point guard Rus­sell West­brook one-onone.

“That'd be com­pet­i­tive,” Young said. “That'd be a good com­pe­ti­tion. I'm not gonna say he's gonna beat me be­cause we're both com­peti­tors. That's just how I am.”

But not even that mind­set pre­pared Young for the day he was deep in psy­chol­ogy books (his hard­est class but also his fa­vorite) and study­ing for an up­com­ing test. His phone started buzzing with texts and Twit­ter no­ti­fi­ca­tions. He had just won a weekly award from the Big 12 con­fer­ence.

“I thought it was Fresh­man of the Week,” Young said. “So first thing I thought was, `Oh, that's re­ally cool.' ”

Young fi­nally un­locked his phone and read closer. He was named the over­all con­fer­ence Player of the Week af­ter his first two games of col­lege bas­ket­ball. Over the next nine weeks, he would win the award five more times.

“I was shocked and hum­bled,” Young said.

That was the na­ture of Young's as­cen­sion. In high school, he com­mit­ted many of his goals to pa­per. Be the best player in Ok­la­homa. Be a McDon­ald's Amer­i­can. For each goal, he laid out a series of steps to get there. Now in col­lege, Young no longer was meet­ing his goals. He was ex­ceed­ing them.

The first real break­out was against Ore­gon, when Young went off for 43 points in his fifth col­lege game.

“I was like, `Whoa,'” team­mate Chris­tian James said. “It caught me off-guard. Be­cause it hap­pened so fast.”

Af­ter that, it just kept com­ing. An NCAA-record 22 as­sists against North­west­ern State. Shoutouts from LeBron James, Steph Curry, Steve Nash, even Os­car Robert­son. Ev­ery now and then, Young would pinch him­self.

“One of my dreams was be­ing called a `Di­a­per Dandy' by Dick Vi­tale,” Young said. “He calls me that all the time now. It's sur­real.”

At Big 12 Me­dia Day in Kansas City be­fore the sea­son, some­one asked Young about lead­ing the OU pro­gram as a fresh­man.

“I know it's a lot of pres­sure,” Young said.

Then he stopped shook his head.

“I don't know why I said pres­sure. I don't use the word pres­sure. … I don't use that word. I'm go­ing to hit my­self later for say­ing that.”

Young is a stu­dent of NBA play­ers and their men­tal­i­ties, so while he says he doesn't be­lieve in words such as pres­sure or fail­ure, even he seemed to sense the weight, to see some­thing com­ing when ESPN, Sports Il­lus­trated, Bleacher Re­port, SLAM Mag­a­zine and oth­ers came to town to see Young for them­selves. All of those sto­ries and this one serve to chron­i­cle hys­te­ria, but they also cre­ate it.

The more you score 30 points and dish 10 as­sists — num­bers no one has ever av­er­aged be­fore — the more ev­ery­one ex­pects 30 and 10.

“I know,” Young told the Tulsa World in Jan­uary. “That's the tough thing about it. I think I set my­self at such a high stan­dard and such a high bar that if I don't meet that ev­ery night, peo­ple are go­ing to say, `Oh, well, maybe that was just a one-game, two-game type of thing.'” Texas. His fa­ther worked in an oil field, and Ray­ford earned a schol­ar­ship to a Di­vi­sion I school de­spite grow­ing up play­ing on play­ground goals with­out nets.

Early in Trae's life, Ray­ford and Candice moved their son to a dif­fer­ent el­e­men­tary school, away from the money and white­washed fa­cades. Ray­ford made it a point to have Trae play bas­ket­ball in other cities, against kids from north Tulsa and south Dal­las. There, Trae was the one who stood out, the rich kid with light skin and nice shoes. But Ray­ford wanted him to see what life was like out­side of the north part of Nor­man. He wanted him to play tough, play “with his chest out.”

“Trae didn't re­ally want for much com­ing up,” Ray­ford said. “So for him to see an­other side of life, and even for him to go back to my home­town in lit­tle west Texas, it gives you a sense of char­ac­ter. It makes you lie in bed at night and look at the ceil­ing and think, `I'm pretty blessed, so I bet­ter take ad­van­tage of this op­por­tu­nity.' ”

That meant many long drives be­tween fa­ther and son, week­end trips to play bas­ket­ball. On those drives, the two would sing slow jams, and Ray­ford would talk about his child­hood.

The train­ing was de­mand­ing. For years, Ray­ford and Trae would head to the Cleve­land County Fam­ily YMCA at 6 a.m. and go through a series of drills. It started when Young was about 5 years old: drib­bling, shoot­ing, layups. By the time he reached mid­dle school, he put up 100 shots ev­ery time he en­tered the gym, usu­ally at least twice a day. To de­velop his sig­na­ture floater, Ray­ford held up a broom stick and had Trae shoot over it.

There's some dis­crep­ancy on whether Young grew up with a bas­ket­ball goal — there might have been a small one out front early on — but Candice also tried to make home be a sanc­tu­ary, away from the pres­sures of com­pe­ti­tion, a haven she couldn't have pre­dicted would one day be­come so nec­es­sary.

“When­ever I was home,” Young said, “I was just a reg­u­lar kid.”

By Young's sopho­more year in high school, he be­gan blow­ing up on the re­cruit­ing scene. He started play­ing AAU ball for Mokan Elite in Kansas City, fly­ing from Will Rogers World Air­port to Kansas City In­ter­na­tional ev­ery week­end, of­ten stay­ing with an as­sis­tant coach. Peo­ple in the Mokan pro­gram no­ticed some­thing about Trae early on. From the first day, he com­peted like crazy. And un­like so many top prospects, he didn't al­ways act like he had it all fig­ured out.

“A lot of times, there's so many peo­ple telling these kids that they're great and telling their

One of my dreams was be­ing called a `Di­a­per Dandy' by Dick Vi­tale. He calls me that all the time now. It's sur­real.” Trae Young

par­ents they're great that they don't ac­cu­rately re­flect on how well or not well they played,” said Matt Suther, the founder of Mokan Elite. `That's some­thing Trae and Ray have al­ways done — an­a­lyze the game, look at the ar­eas that they could get bet­ter, go back, make ad­just­ments and come back and prove he's im­proved.”

When at­ten­tion re­ally started to come, Trae didn't ex­actly breathe it in nat­u­rally. His first big TV in­ter­view took place in the fam­ily's liv­ing room, and Young was ner­vous. He paused and stut­tered in front of the cam­era.

For a long time af­ter games, Ray­ford and his son would talk and an­a­lyze what just hap­pened. Ray­ford wanted his son to be able to un­der­stand and ex­plain the game. Slowly, those fa­ther­son talks turned into mock news con­fer­ences.

“If I'd give him a one-word or two-word an­swer, he would be mad,” Young said. “He would ask me to go more in de­tail. Ex­plain more.”

It's in­ter­est­ing when you think about it now. On pa­per, Young's words can at times seem brash and ar­ro­gant. When Ok­la­homa beat Ok­la­homa State in Nor­man, Young got a tech­ni­cal foul for jaw­ing af­ter a 3-pointer.

“Coach kind of got mad at me for get­ting that tech, but I wanted to get the juices flow­ing in the crowd,” Young said af­ter the game. “This is Bed­lam. This is what you play for. You want to be the team that runs the state.“

The words read abra­sively in print. But that's not how Young speaks. Pull up a video. He's de­lib­er­ate, speaks at a medium vol­ume. It's like he's try­ing to fig­ure out how a star ath­lete should act.

As for the emo­tions, Ray­ford is the one who got ner­vous. Be­fore games, he'll plug in head­phones and try to block out the noise. The stress of the re­cruit­ing process of­ten had his mind rac­ing. But he al­ways re­minded his son to en­joy it. So de­spite the trips and the ris­ing celebrity, Young says the re­cruit­ing process wasn't a bur­den. He got of­fered by Duke, Ken­tucky and Kansas as a ju­nior.

“I was sit­ting in Coach K's of­fice, see­ing all the pic­tures on the wall and him telling me Bey­once is the dream per­son he wanted to meet,” Young said about Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski. “That's like a crazy mo­ment.”

Of course, Young ended up turn­ing down chances to play at those bas­ket­ball in­sti­tu­tions. He de­cided to go down the street, play for a foot­ball school that hap­pens to have a col­lege bas­ket­ball vet named Lon Kruger as the coach. Young could be the face of the pro­gram. He'd also be close to home. He'd play at the same school where he used to watch Blake Grif­fin pack the arena.

“When you've been the ball boy and you've seen the back side of the gym, you know what the back of the Lloyd No­ble Cen­ter looks like, there's a com­fort,” Candice said the day Young chose OU.

For all that sim­plic­ity, big­ger dreams al­ways hung in the back­ground. Ray­ford had sea­son tick­ets to Thun­der games, and be­fore that, bought tick­ets to see the then-New Or­leans Hor­nets play in OKC af­ter Hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina. He has friends in the NBA from his play­ing days, and talks to peo­ple such as Cleve­land Cava­liers coach Ty­rone Lue reg­u­larly. He wanted his son to see what the NBA was like, to view it as a league full of real peo­ple rather than some fic­tional uni­verse.

When Young was still be­ing re­cruited, USA To­day told the story of the time, af­ter a Thun­der game, he met with then-Cava­liers point guard Kyrie Irv­ing.

Af­ter catch­ing Irv­ing near the team bus, Young and his fa­ther walked back to the car, and Young had a re­al­iza­tion.

“If I don't make it, maaaaan,” he said. “I've gotta make it. I've been ex­posed to this life for too long … I can't not make it to this level.”

Later this sea­son, Young talked about chat­ting with Chris Paul, an­other one of the play­ers with whom he's got­ten close. Paul was quoted in one ar­ti­cle about Young, and talked about telling Young how he could no longer be just a fan of play­ers he'll soon be guard­ing.

“Even Chris,” Young be­gan, then he caught him­self. “CP. Yeah, that's crazy. I'm just call­ing him by his first name.”

Now Young can't even go to Thun­der games as a fan with­out get­ting mobbed. It takes him 30 min­utes to get to his seat. his mind to.

The el­der Ray­ford Young died pre­ma­turely at 50 in Pampa, and ev­ery Christ­mas, the Young fam­ily goes to visit his grave.

One day, Young called Perry and asked if he could get a few more bracelets.

Sure, Perry said, but why? Young told him he left his last one on his grand­fa­ther's grave. that, to be hon­est,” for­ward Kris­tian Doolitte said this week when asked about the team's odd sea­son.

OU as­sis­tant Chris Crutch­field, though, of­fers a re­minder about the del­i­cate na­ture of coach­ing col­lege bas­ket­ball. Kruger, Crutch­field and the rest of the OU staff man­age a locker room full of boys who are try­ing to be­come men, frag­ile egos and shak­able con­fi­dence a time­less theme. This OU team has only one se­nior. Its best player is a fresh­man who hap­pens to have had his en­tire world picked apart.

“Even when he was play­ing well he man­aged it,” Crutch­field said. `And then when peo­ple started crit­i­ciz­ing him, I thought he han­dled it well. He stood up in front of the TV and said, `Hey, I'm 19 years old, I'm gonna make mis­takes, I'm not gonna play well all the time. It hap­pens.' … Most kids in this day and age would prob­a­bly make ex­cuses or point the fin­ger at some­one else, and he never did that.”

Through all fires, there comes the chance for new growth. Ray­ford says Trae has started do­ing more of his own laun­dry, start­ing to be­come more of his own per­son, a thought that is both en­cour­ag­ing and scary.

He still at­tends his sis­ters' vol­ley­ball games and his 7-year-old brother's youth games. His sis­ters tease him about his corny jokes and stub­born na­ture. Younger brother Ti­mothy shoots around in the OU prac­tice gym.

But Young says he's also taken strides, grad­u­ally fig­ur­ing things out on his own, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the good and bad of be­ing 19.

“I had that ques­tion com­ing here,” Young said. “Would I be able to ex­pe­ri­ence col­lege life like a nor­mal kid, even though I'm liv­ing 10 min­utes down the way? But no. I'm just like a reg­u­lar col­lege kid.”

TYLER DRABEK/for the Tulsa World, file

Trae Young re­acts af­ter hit­ting a deep 3-pointer against TCU on Jan. 13. Young scored 43 points in the Soon­ers' 102-97 over­time win on 15-of-27 shoot­ing from the field and 10-of-18 from the 3-point line.


Ok­la­homa coach Lon Kruger (right) ad­mits that coach­ing a tal­ent like Trae Young (left) was a unique chal­lenge. “Young guy that didn't know what re­ally lies ahead, and we didn't help him there enough with that,” he said.

TYLER DRABEK/for the Tulsa World, file

Trae Young (left) had 27 points, 10 as­sists and nine re­bounds in Ok­la­homa's win over Ok­la­homa State on Jan. 3.

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